How To Fix Sales Rep Inefficiencies And Build A Better Pipeline

July 12, 2016 Tomas Eastman

Why is building a sales pipeline so difficult?

Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association revealed that 44% of executives think their organization is ineffective at managing their sales pipeline.

To get a better understanding of the process, we sat down with a sales rep and asked them to detail their daily process for us. Our goal was to better understand where the inefficiencies and obstructions show up. We sought to understand what could be streamlined to effect more sales and better predictability.

This post will look over the seven daily processes of a sales reps and in doing so we’ll see where sales inefficiencies pile up (hint: it’s on sales reps’ desks). Once we’ve examined the issues, we’ll discuss how we can solve them.


Step 1. Lead Identification and Prequalification

Sales reps are paid to sell, not prospect. But before a call can be made to determine if there’s a fit, leads are qualified to see if they’re worthwhile engaging. This can be a lengthy process of dialing, leaving voicemails, sending emails and conducting research to understand what a prospective lead is made of.

When identifying leads, social media channels may offer reliable and up-to-date information. Yet, they are incomplete. For example, LinkedIn provides no email or phone contact, so reps are forced to turn to alternate sources.

As a result, 89.9% of companies use two or more sources of contact data to fulfill the needs of sales.

But 40% of C-Suite executives are not on LinkedIn.

Paid data makes its appearance here as a result. Searching secondary information like SIC codes, industry reports, annual revenue or employee count becomes a standard practice when fleshing out lead qualifications.


Step 2. (Sometimes) Building Lists and Manual CRM Data Entry

Salespeople are notoriously forgetful about entering lead information in their CRM. But tracking conversion rates and other key metrics in a granular fashion is very conducive to finding and targeting the right leads.

List segmentation is an important step for ensuring that inbound and outbound lead generation is effective. When performing multi-channel outreach, sales reps need to know how to email, call, voicemail and follow up with leads in organized, efficient fashion.

After each touch, a host of qualifiers are (hopefully) accounted for:

  • Firmographics - company size, industry, geography.
  • Role and authority within organization - who does what and what can the prospect do?
  • Willing to meet with sales - this draws the line between qualified lead or not.
  • Pain point - does the prospect have a problem you can solve?
  • Timing - is the problem urgent enough that the buyer is willing to work on this right now?
  • Budget - while this question is usually saved for later calls, eventually this will come to be crucial.

This is a full suite of information to track, input and update continuously. But it is necessary, as the proper information at the next point of contact can directly influence the ability to move a lead down the pipeline and influence a sales opportunity.

Likewise, lead data is of great importance to the marketing team. Understanding who (exactly) is engaging with marketing materials, what the open rates are and other conversion metrics can hugely sway the slant that the strategy takes. Plus, it sheds light upon the overall quality of leads being gathered.

These are other important inputs:

  • Touches: connections - conversations - qualified leads
  • Email open rates and response rates
  • Voicemail response rates
  • Lead source effectiveness - to determine which lead sources are working or not
  • Qualified leads/sales accepted leads (If these conversion rates lag, there’s likely a larger problem to address)
  • Business closed from QLs
  • Total number of QLs passed per month


Step 3. Prioritize (Based on Judgement) Whom to Call First

This is a big step in the sales rep’s day. Starting off on the right foot, after all the administrative requirements have been handled, is more a matter of chance than anything. Sadly, the average sales rep spends only 22% of their workday selling - 23% is spent completing tedious administrative tasks. 

typical sales rep weekly hours

Chart Source: Typical Sales Rep % Of Weekly Hours by Mark Ellwood Pace Productivity 

12 - 18 dials are needed to connect with a buyer, says Vorsight.

22.5 dials are required to achieve a conversation. This number rises to 30 in “highly solicited areas.”

3 conversations are needed to reach one appointment.

That’s 60 - 90 dials to get an appointment with a prospect.

It’s obvious with numbers like these why reps aren’t spending their time selling.

And it’s further apparent that they’re ill-equipped to handle all the leads that can appear during the daily workflow. Take inbound leads for example.

As a survey by InsideSales details, a response issued under five minutes is 9x more likely to end in a conversion than a 10-minute response.

5 minute response


A response under five minutes is a whopping 21x more likely to convert than after a 30-minute wait.

Keeping sales reps open to present-time opportunities can equal more lead qualification.


Step 4. Reach Out: AWAF?

Qualifying leads with ‘are-we-a-fit’ (AWAF) calls are inefficient, but necessary regardless, for two reasons:

  1. No visibility, maturity or conversion probability in most leads.
  2. Sales reps quit after an average of 1.2 attempts.

After dialing and dialing, hoping to connect, only 25% of leads are legitimate and should advance to sales (Gleanster Research). In efforts to confirm a possible fit and then schedule a demo or discovery call, many sales reps just burn out or are overwhelmed with other responsibilities.

With little operating information and high-quit rates amongst sales reps, decision fatigue is to blame. Called upon to appraise lead quality, engage, re-engage and call while in the dark (and with little opportunity for success) the human element of the sales rep becomes apparent. Over so many micro-decisions, the quality of decision making decreases.

Simply providing sales reps with qualified lead information in real-time would solve this headache and increase conversions.


Step 5. Put Tasks in Salesforce, etc. and Follow Up

80% of sales usually require five follow-up calls before a sale. This entails a lot of time within the CRM to keep track of upcoming process calls. The qualified leads that you do have, they want that follow-up call. Many are simply too busy to make a callback or respond to your emails.

Inside Sales research shows that 35-50% of sales go to the vendor that engages with the lead first.

So again, those administrative tasks are important. But very time consuming. And they cut directly into the time salespeople need to close deals. This back and forth is costly.


Step 6. Look at Call Quota, Get Discouraged

In 2007, it took an average of 3.68 cold call attempts to reach a prospect. Now, the number is 18.

Making call quota is no longer the issue - modern inbound and outbound techniques ensure that many a sales rep simply can’t address all available prospects. With more business infrastructure than ever, more reliance upon other methods of communication, and a more well-informed and savvy buying pool, it can be more overwhelming than ever to find the right leads.

The issue is with finding a qualified lead in a position to making a purchase. Bottom line, it’s about finding a decision maker.

According to Vorsight, sales reps are more than 46 percent more likely to be successful when in touch with a director, and a whopping 147 percent more successful when they reach a VP.


Step 7. Send Emails without Visibility or Measure of Interest

71.1% of sales emails are unopened. After establishing an open or unopened status, the trail goes cold when it comes down to qualifying leads. Yet, email shows very promising statistics otherwise, if they’re done correctly. Hubspot compiled an insightful list of stats:

  • Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%.
  • Relevant emails drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails.

Emails are an important component of the multi-touch engagement cycle, but they’re best done in targeted fashion. To send a generic, thoughtless email can squander potential with a good lead - and will provide no clarity as to their level of engagement.


Freeing the Sales Rep

When they’re asked, sales reps want for two things: good leads and the time to pursue them. Yet, the modern sales rep is caught within a network of technological inefficiencies, office responsibilities and overwhelming engagement requirements.

Marketo’s lead generation research found that:

  • A 5% increase in selling time can yield a 20% increase in revenue

The bottleneck of technology and data has become a choking collar for sales reps and the sales pipeline. Streamlining this process is a must. Some organizations choose to implement a large sales development team to handle the go-between and tedium for sales reps.

This means hiring, training and establishing best practices for a team that typically outnumbers sales reps 3 to 1. Smart engagement solutions are the other viable option.

As an easy install interface application, an SES provides a simpler, faster and more efficient lead generation and sales solution. Balancing lead scoring with automated email scenarios, emergent smart engagement solutions use big data and pinpoint multi-touch techniques to deliver qualified leads to sales reps.

And that’s without the CRM hassle and administrative headaches of the previous years.


The Outbound Smart Engagement Process

First, algorithms search the internet through corporate websites, social networks, blogs, press releases, big data like Reuters, Lexis Nexis and more to deliver sales reps all available information on leads. Leads are then ranked and prioritized for engagement given buying propensity, as gauged by buying trigger evidence.

This multi-touch prospecting approach means that decision makers are no longer hidden.

Now sales reps have options. Given the wide berth of information on hand, they can respond to the pain points of the highest ranking members within an organization. This is a three-click process:

  1. Add lead favorites
  2. Screen through Marketo/Salesforce
  3. Click to engage with targeted 5 touch (or more) email scenario

A simple, 30-minute process. Sales reps need only initiate the appropriate scenarios within their segmented lists and wait to personally engage with positive responses. This means “warm calling.” Certain leads will show up as AWAF and demo ready, so sales can reach out directly. After a call, email engagement keeps leads moving towards the bottom of the funnel, meaning sales reps are free to make more calls. As a smart engagement solution syncs with CRM, list segmentation and real-time stats are available for whomever is in which part of the funnel.

With targeted email scenarios, up to 5x the number of meetings can be established with leads.  Multiplying the 5 touches from email engagement by the 1.2 attempt calling average across emails means that each lead receives 8 total touches before they’re moved onto the next step or dropped. Thorough, precise and targeted based upon lead specifics - that’s smart engagement in a nutshell.



After our conversation with the sales rep, it seems a difficult time to occupy their position. Responsibilities have achieved critical mass, as many organizations use them as a catch-all role for developing the sales pipeline. Without a streamlined lead generation process, it’s no wonder many companies are searching for new ways to find and engage leads effectively.

Fortunately, relief is in sight for sales reps and companies alike. With the advent of smart engagement, sales reps can again do what they do best, and companies can rest easier knowing that leads are not only being engaged - but closed by sales reps on top of their game and equipped with the right information.

Featured Image Source: Plumbing Pipe Wrench Repair Maintenance Fix Tool by Steve Buissinne CC0 Pixabay

About the Author

Tomas Eastman

Tomas Eastman is a chocolate lover and a lead marketing writer at IKO Systems, located in "la ville de l'amour" Paris. He delights readers with topics like Content Marketing, Lead Generation, Prospecting, Automated Email Engagement Solutions, amongst others.

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